So, how did I get into climbing photography? I’ve always been interested in sports. At school it was the usual cricket, rugby and football with a brief stint trying martial arts. But, as with all sports, injuries set in. I remember ultra-sound treatment sessions on my knee’s as a result of over training for cricket, and in my later teens I kept repeatedly dislocating my right shoulder as a result of tackling in Rugby. The end result of this was surgery. I was then sport homeless for several years as I didn’t want to go back into any type of team sport that might involve contact. Then a friend of mine introduced me to climbing. This was before I had started photography so when I did start practicing photography climbing was a natural subject matter.
EARLY PHOTOS / NEW ZEALAND
My first camera was a cheap point and shoot. At that time I didn’t know anything about composition or camera settings. I simply used it as a point and shoot device to capture random moments from my New Zealand trip. The pictures below are from boulder fields in Wharepapa South near Bryce’s Rockclimbing Shop & Lodge, The lakeside boulder at Lake Wanaka and the Jardines boulder field below The Remarkables Mountain range.
FORT PURBROOK & THE HOT WALLS
The main training area way back then was the old bouldering rooms at Fort Purbrook. The training area was small, but it kind of forced conversation and as a result a small community built up. Along with a bolt on holds room the centre also had a bendcrete wall, which was a climbing surface sculpted to replicate real rock and was a remarkably useful training tool for outside projects.
The nearest outdoor boulder field was on Portland which was a 2 hour plus drive at the time before the roads were developed for the 2012 Olympics. So the local seawalls known as the hot-walls were an infrequent spot we would go to for crimp training.
THE CUTTINGS / PORTLAND
The closest bouldering field to me on the south coast is the Cuttings on Portland. There are a few other area’s scattered around, but none with the same density of routes. The rock is limestone so the hold type can range from super smooth to amazingly sharp. Friction is better in the winter, than the summer but summer days on the field cant be beaten. The quality of climbs has been described, and accurately so, as short and pumpy. There are a handful of large boulders but most are small with incredibly hard climbs on them.
It is though, remarkably beautiful. I have climbed here many times over the years and you kind of go through this transition of hating it with a passion to loving it for being what it is. You wouldn’t travel from far to climb here, as there are many other area’s in the UK with more appeal. But for a local crag it covers all the bases as it is a place that allows you to climb on rock and it also provides many potential projects to give your training focus.
The guide for the area has been developed by Ben Stokes and is called Dorset Bouldering. I have used this guide to shoot some virtual tours of a few of the boulders and you can find those by clicking/tapping here.
FONTAINEBLEAU / FRANCE
Font is a bouldering dream. Thousands of sandstone boulders litter the forest all around Fontainebleau and there are many more thousands of routes ranging from 1c to 8a+. There are many campsites around font to choose from, our regular spot was Camping Les Pres which is just outside of Grez-sur-Loing. For a list of all the area’s, fields and route then visit the bleau.info website.
I think I made 4 trips to Font with various degrees of enjoyment and success. My own personal best was a 6a route called La Moreau at the Éléphant boulder field (I narrowly missed a 6c to the right of this boulder). The same field contained another 6a project that just kept ruining my wrists, Le Surplomb du Lépreux. And this is a character of Font climbing, everything ends up on your wrists.
No trip is ever long enough, and the longer your trips are the more worn out you will become. Plan for climbing days and rest days. Rest days should be spent exploring new areas otherwise you can end up sticking to one field. This climb/rest day approach allows you to pace yourself and make the trip more worthwhile. If you are planning on travelling abroad for a climbing trip make sure you put the training in to develop your strength, technique and skin toughness. This leads me on to a couple of well earned lessons.
TIP 1 / KNOW THE PURPOSE OF A TRIP
Frustration can develop easily when the purpose of a climbing trip isn’t established. So to save wasting time and money, workout early on with the people you are planning on going with if the trips purpose is casual climbing/social or focused climbing.
TIP 2 / YOU EITHER CLIMB OR YOU PHOTOGRAPH
I slowly worked out that whilst you can climb and photograph it was easier to work on shots when I was only photographing. Taking this approach removes you from the spotting system (a person who stands at the bottom of the route and helps guide a climber back on to a mat or away from danger to reduce injury from a fall), reduces the amount of gear you need to take with you and allows you to document correctly the activity at hand.
TIP 3 / GROUP SIZE
Going climbing with a large group of friends is a lot of fun. But with large groups come more bags (specifically supermarket bags) and more gear left strewn about the boulder. And you need to work around this so the boulder doesn’t look like a rubbish dump or you will end up wasting hours of your life cloning out unwanted elements on your photos. This relates back to Tip 1, is it a group social where you are grabbing casual shots or are you punching for images with more impact.
TIP 4 / HALF WAY UP
This applies to both outdoor sends and indoor routes. For the vast majority of climbs the best photo is one where the climber is half way up the route. This is normally where both the crux exist and where body position looks the best. Top outs usually involve a lot of butt in the shot, and the starts generally imply that the person climbing didn’t make it off the first few moves. But, if you are documenting a project, then cover everything so you have sufficient material to draw on.